The Flag, the Question, & my Answer

I’ve thought about this post a lot this past week.

I’ve tossed and turned ideas in my head and have debated whether to share those thoughts in such an open forum where my words can be taken and interpreted in so many ways. I even sat down to write my traditional Monday post about a completely different topic and never finished because this was at the forefront of my mind. I couldn’t ignore it. Rather than share something I didn’t quite believe was authentic, I skipped Monday.

Yet after all the internal debate, I have decided that it was worth sharing. Here it goes.

At the end of every HEW (it’s a gym) class, we (the members) usually take time to cool down, stretch, and talk to each other about random “question of the day’s.” Generally, those questions lead to conversations which leads to a great sense of community. I honestly love it and sometimes that’s the only time I get to catch my breath. This particular evening, I found myself in a conversation with a lady, who I didn’t know well,  about the SuperBowl and what commercials interested us most. And then out of seemingly nowhere (for me since I tend to be more of a basketball/soccer/tennis girl myself) she exclaimed, “Man, I wish we could keep politics out of the sport with the whole kneeling thing. Right?”

She looked at me, anticipating my response, but I was knocked off guard. No one had ever asked me or really even approached me with the subject (which isn’t surprising considering how little I watch football). And so unprepared with a response, I mumbled a few non sequiturs and we parted ways. But that conversation and her implied question stuck with me. What do I think?

Up until this post, I’d inwardly decided not to tackle touchy or sensitive subject in an impersonal forum, meaning I didn’t want to post an opinion on Facebook if I hadn’t already addressed the issue in person. Not that I would say thing I regret, but more so because genuine human connection and discussion can be lost in the world of black and white, 250 words or less, print. It can also be more damaging. So I, for the better part of this year, have ushered those conversations with those closest to me and strangers alike.

However, my conversation with the lady at the gym changed things a bit. She didn’t come to me angry or extremely polarized about the subject. She was just weary of having something that had always united her loved ones become the very thing that divided them. And so, I want to answer her question, now that I have my thoughts in order. My hope is in responding to this touchy subject in an open and less intimate forum, that bridges would begin to form that had previously been burned. I pray that what I write would urge you to put down your keyboards, to leave the heated Facebook debate and to go out and have a real-life conversation with the people in your life.

So where do I stand?

I don’t know how to sum it up in a succinct way so you’re going to get the long explanation.

I stand with the flag. I love the imperfectness of a country that has allowed me to live the life I have. I appreciate the sacrifice of millions of people, families and friends who died to protect this nation. I’ve seen dear friends, students,  and loved ones pledge their years to this country. I can’t imagine what it’s like to send a son or sister or friend off to war to never to see them again. I don’t know what it’s like growing up in a family with a military lineage rooted and firmly planted on the privilege in serving our country for generations. But with all the imagination I can muster, I can imagine how that flag is entangled in the heartbeat of the soldier’s home. It’s the reason they find honor in fighting. I know my immigrant parents found pride in the flag when they went to swear in as citizens for the first time. I remember them coming home and explaining to us what just happened. And for that I stand.

But in the same breath, I kneel with my brothers. Because I know that freedom wasn’t only won on the battle ground. That flag is also a symbol of the peaceful protests of the Civil Rights movement and the countless people who risked their lives on their home turf to give me freedoms I benefit from now. I know that intertwined in the American lineage and black American lineage is the story of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks who peacefully denied to give up her seat amidst animosity, and set and set the trend of a different kind of fight. I know those soldiers never dawned a uniform, they never stepped up to the battle line, but for the sake of that flag, they stood up for what was right. That very day my parents became citizens, they also spoke of those people; the ones who made it possible for me to go out into the world without the weight of an abominable lie that I am inherently inferior. And out of a grateful heart, I kneel.

So yeah, I kneel and stand.

To be honest, I think this is probably where a lot of Americans land; we just haven’t heard anyone in the news echo it (mostly because the news is polarizing). And even as I try to communicate the very real human emotions and tension intertwined in this subject, I do want to say, taking either “side,” doesn’t make you less American. Both sides are saturated with the American story. If you don’t agree with me, that doesn’t immediately imply that you, or I, love this country less. It means we can have a conversation. Unity isn’t the absence of tension or disagreement. Unity is the decision to put down our pitchforks in spite of it.

I’ll end with this because I think Thomas Jefferson put it best:

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” -Thomas Jefferson

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

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